A year before his eco-zombie epic Let Sleeping Corpses Lie (also known as Breakfast At Manchester Morgue), Spanish filmmaker Jorge Grau offered up his take on the infamous legend of Elizabeth Bathory, who has been said to have bathed in the blood of young people in order to preserve her youth. The Legend Of Blood Castle (Ceremonia Sangrienta) starts out with the villagers of Cajlice digging up the corpse of the local doctor, whom they believe to be a vampire. Scenes of a trial counsel questioning a dead body sealed in a glass-lidded coffin with a stake protruding from his torso are so intentionally absurd that one has to wonder if a superstitious 17th century village would have done such a thing.
Cajlice’s Marquis, Karl Ziemmer (Espartaco Santoni), oversees the trial of the vampire, finding the whole thing as absurd and credulous as his dimwitted subjects. The Marquis is extremely bored with it all. His wife, Countess Erzsebet Báthory (Lucia Bosé), sits around their castle, obsessing with the fact that she is growing older and her husband has grown distant. An accident results in a few specs of blood dropping onto her hand — after which the wealthy Countess notices an improvement in her skin. Soon, her obsession becomes a nightmarish reality when she and her evil housekeeper (Ana Farra) develop a potion to enslave the mind of the Marquis — to which the Countess sends him out to kill young girls. Dead young girls = fresh blood baths. Eww.
While it can move a bit slow at times, The Legend Of Blood Castle bears the unmistakably original and atmospheric mark of its director. Several memorable moments, such as Bathory’s bathing rituals and the epic moment wherein Farra has her tongue cut out, are quite effective — and ultimately add to the film.
When The Legend Of Blood Castle (also known as The Female Butcher here) was originally released in the U.S. in 1974, distributors removed a few segments. Those moments have been reinstated for Mya Communication’s DVD release and are in Spanish with removable English subtitles. Sadly, Mya’s transfer of The Legend Of Blood Castle is presented in a non-anamorphic 1.85:1 widescreen ratio. The image is a bit fuzzy and grainy (which is understandable, considering its age and budget to begin with), but is none too distracting. Audio options consist of the English dub, the original Spanish track, and an Italian dub — all of which are in mono stereo. No subtitle tracks are available for the feature film itself, but rather exist solely for those moments that were never translated into English.
Special features for The Legend Of Blood Castle include a handful of deleted scenes and some alternate “clothed” footage (many a Spanish-made horror film shot racier footage for the International market) which you can view side-by-side with the final cut. These scenes are all culled from an inferior source and are presented in Italian with English subtitles. Two alternate credit sequences are also on hand: an Italian opening (La Vergine Cavalcano La Morte), and English-language opening and closing titles. A poster/artwork gallery rounds out the selection of extras.
While not as enthralling as his later Let Sleeping Corpses Lie, Jorge Grau’s The Legend Of Blood Castle is nevertheless an entertaining chunk of Spanish horror history. Any fan of such should see it.